The rise of the carpetbaggers

February 5, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | 6 Comments

If you trawl Liverpool FC’s unofficial fan forums, it won’t be long before you stumble upon a long thread lamenting the lack of scousers in the squad. For a city so used to producing pedigree footballers (the Premiership years alone brought Fowler & McManaman, Gerrard & Carragher), it’s frustrating watching the parade of sub-par foreigners appear on the subs bench, put in a few derisory performances, and then disappear into obscurity.

The names are scarred into the memory; mentioned only as punchlines: Salif Diao, Djimi Traore, Sean Dundee, Bruno Cheyrou. Each expensive flop is accompanied by a question that remains unanswered: was there really not a single young scouser who could’ve done as good bad a job, or even slightly better? Has the city’s talent pool really drained so badly that it’s producing players who aren’t even fit for the subs bench?

You can see shades of this frustration in the backlash over Luciana Berger’s selection as Labour’s candidate for Liverpool Wavertree. Ms Berger is hardly at fault for being young, for harbouring a desire for public service or for possessing qualities which have made her appealing to London’s Labour hierarchy. She may, indeed, prove to be an excellent MP.

But what I read in the exasperated responses to her selection is a refrain I’ve heard many times in & around the Shankly Gates: was there not a single person, in a city of over 400,000 people, who could’ve done as good a job? The city expects an Emlyn Hughes or a Jamie Carragher – someone who, at some level, can understand & relate to the culture & traditions of the people they serve. Instead, they’re getting a Neil Ruddock.

In fact, I’m perhaps being a little hard on Ruddock, for at least the lumbering oaf who embarassed the reds’ back four would’ve been able to respond well to a question about who Bill Shankly was. Now, not knowing or caring about football hardly disqualifies you from public office, but not being able to possess the slightest reverence, sensitivity or even awareness of part of the city’s history and tradition is problematic at best, and to then blame your ignorance on being female is just embarrassing.

In my experience, scousers are no more insular than the inhabitants of any other large town or city. But they do possess a distinctive history and culture which they are deeply proud of and enjoy sharing with the rest of the world. They deserve – like every constituency in the country deserves – an MP who can recall this rich history, revel in its traditions and understand the hopes and fears of the people they wish to represent. Does Ms Berger possess that understanding, or is her main qualification that she’s passed through a few times on business, or spent a few hours on the Albert Docks?

Really, this post isn’t even about Luciana Berger; a similar piece could’ve been written about David or Ed Miliband, Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper. But her selection will only increase the sense that Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office.

One argument made by opponents of proportional representation is that it would remove the link between an MP and his/her constituents, yet they never stop to recognise that, thanks to the centralising of political parties, this link is already reaching the end of its tether. Perhaps the defeat of Ms Berger would send a symbolic – but important – message from Liverpool to London that the days of carpetbagging must end if Labour is to re-establish itself with what was once its heartlands.

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  1. This story was covered in a similar way on the local news, the “aul’ fella” from the constituency stating that Berger had out-performed everyone else at the interviews by a long way, then a load of vox pops with predictably outraged Wavertree-ites.

    But I think you could argue that Liverpool, with its cosmopolitan port background (oldest Chinatown in the UK, waves of immigration from Ireland, Wales and Scandinavia* amongst others) is the perfect place for an out-of-town MP. If she’s good enough to get elected, six months after moving here, she’ll be an honorary Scouser, will know who Shankley is and may even have a hint of a Scouse twang – look what happened to Jan Molby!

    Even during the Shankley days the team had a number of “foreigners”, even if they were from north of the border rather than over the seas. Not to mention the fact that our Academy is stuffed full of local kids and we have a lot more local heroes than Arsenal and Chelsea.

    Plus for every Diao, Traore and Cheyrou (you know they’re all Houillier-era signings, right?!) there’s a Fernando Torres. I think most football fans/constituents would admit that’s a fair deal!!

    (*even the word ‘Scouse’ comes from the Norweigan for meat stew!)

    • I forgot Biscan! In my defence, I included the Houllier signings because Rafa’s got enough on his plate at the moment without some Esteemed Political Blogger pointing out the likes of Josemi, the Nunez and Voronin! ;)

      Your comment makes a great dissent, though, and despite being an OOT myself, I’ve never felt excluded from that great big, boistrous, merry clan which makes up Liverpool fans. Dietmar Hamman is a scouser. Sami Hyypia is a scouser. That was probably something I didn’t get across well enough in this post.

      But I genuinely hate it when these insipid graduate politicians get parachuted into ‘exotic’ northern seats. Sure, Luciana Berger might get to know who Shankly is, given time, and a 20 year stint as MP might even make her acquainted with Neville Southall, but I really think the people in these safe constituencies are done a disservice when they’re expected to accept whoever London deems appropriate. I’d like to bet that absolutely zero thought went into the question of whether Luciana Berger was right for Wavertree. Instead, I suspect that Labour just thought that Liverpool Wavertree was right for Luciana Berger.

  2. I see all those and raise you a Torben Piechnik!

    I do see what you’re saying, but just to stretch the football/politics way past breaking point: in the good old/bad old days, to be a prospective Labour MP was to be thrown head first into a near-suicide battle against one of the Tory grandees. (Remember how surprised Stephen Twigg was to win?)

    After a couple of such soul-crushing defeats, if they were still interested in standing, they might be considered battle-scarred enough for a tilt at a safe seat. It’s akin to throwing Ngog on at 3-0 down with 10 minutes on the clock. Sure, he’ll try hard, but to not much effect and frustration and dented confidence will be the main result.

    It’s much better to give your promising stars of tomorrow a run out when you’re 2-0 up at home and the pressure’s off. They can taste the Anfield atmosphere, the experienced players can keep an eye on them and, crucuially, they can’t do any damage! Some of our Academy got such a run out on Boxing Day against Wolves and I’m hopeful that something similar is happening in Wavertree, although I know it could be the usual Labour Party ‘on message’ bleeper instincts at work.

    But still, I’m hopeful. It’s something all Scousers are very good at ;-)

  3. Interestingly, though, the carpetbaggers aren’t doing well in this round of selections (possibly a backlash against 2001 and 2005, when a load of Spads did get parachuted).

    Liverpool Wavertree isn’t a safe seat, it is a marginal which the Lib Dems are chucking everything at. I looked at the 24 seats where the majority is over 20% and a new candidate was selected. 19 chose candidates with local connections (either born in the area or local councillors). Of the other 5, one works on policy around refugee and migrant children, one is an anti-war leftie and one is the former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group. And Stephen Twigg and Rachel Reeves each got selected on their own merits against credible local candidates.

    I don’t imagine you would want a rule where, say, Kate Green couldn’t become a Labour candidate (I don’t think she’s really an example of ‘an insipid graduate politician’!)

  4. […] Here he is playing Beanie Sigel to my Jay-Z and ‘debunking’ my ‘myth’ of Labour carpetbagging. Dissed in my own ‘hood – that’s […]

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